Member insight provided by John Krantz at Two Rivers Marketing in Des Moines, Iowa.

Equipment manufacturers and others are at the mercy of Google – and its ever-changing search algorithm – when it comes to how and where customers are able to find them online.

Changes to Google’s algorithm are frequent and usually unannounced.

So when the company makes a point to tell the world about an impending search algorithm change months in advance, it’s apparent that the change will have far-reaching effects.

Such was the case with Google’s recent mobile-friendly update – deemed by some to be “Mobilegeddon.”

But fear not! Here are some simple explanations and tips from John Johnston, director of digital marketing for Volvo Construction Equipment, as well as experts from Baltimore, Maryland-based digital marketing agency, R2integrated (R2i).

Google Gives Little Time to React

Announced in February 2015, the Google algorithm change took effect on April 21, giving businesses a mere two months to react to the news that sites deemed “not mobile-friendly” would suffer in search rankings on mobile devices.

What wasn’t clear in the announcement was exactly how much those websites would suffer.

“There was a lot of speculation in the industry, and many were expecting the update to be a black-and-white mandate. In reality, the effects have turned out to be a lot less drastic – at least thus far,” Johnston said.

“At Volvo, we had already undergone about a year’s worth of work toward launching a fully responsive site when the Google announcement was made,” he added. “We’ve seen little impact on our mobile search rankings in the short term, so we’re continuing to focus on our long-term responsive site development plan.”

However, Johnston said, it’s possible for companies with a smaller digital infrastructure to do some quick and easy things to improve mobile usability and ensure that their website is not negatively impacted by the Google update.

Easy Changes Minimize Impact

With the right understanding, you can evaluate your website using free tools and make easy changes that will ensure minimal negative impact to your mobile search rankings.

Here are four things you should know:

1. It’s not black and white

With the Google announcement came a mobile-friendly test tool (simply search “mobile-friendly test tool” in Google and you’ll yield a Google Webmaster page asking for your website URL).

Within seconds, Google’s bots will crawl your website pages to come up with a ruling: your site is either mobile-friendly or it is not mobile-friendly. The tool is helpful in that it provides a list of reasons why a site was determined not to be mobile-friendly.

“Mobile-friendliness is a spectrum,” explained Lindsay McGettigan, director of marketing strategy and insights at R2i. “The difference between two sites that are both deemed as not mobile-friendly by Google can be drastic, and thus, so should be the impact of the algorithm change to the search ranking of each of those sites.”

While preliminary research has suggested the immediate impact to site rankings wasn’t as severe as many expected, Google is continually refining the algorithm with small, frequent updates (unannounced) that will continue to affect search results.

The best way to determine the impact to your business is to analyze your site’s traffic, as well as organic impressions, clicks and pages indexed, which is free and easy to do.

2. Use free tools to measure impact

Both Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools are free and can provide valuable insights on how visitors are finding and engaging with your site. If you signed up prior to April 21, you can pull data up to 90 days before the algorithm change to see how mobile traffic was impacted afterwards.

“If the site had a high number of mobile visitors prior to the change, and that number decreased significantly after the change, it’s fair to say that investing in updates to the site is warranted,” said McGettigan.

“However, if you had little to no mobile traffic to begin with, or if the traffic you had from mobile was minimally impacted, perhaps your marketing dollars could be better spent elsewhere in the short term," she said.

If you were not signed up to use Google Analytics or Google Webmaster prior to April 21, doing so after the fact still has significant value.

Google Webmaster recently added a mobile usability tab, which can help identify the potential issues with individual pages on your site. Coupled with Google Analytics, you can assess how mobile users are staying engaged with your site.

“If you notice that a high number of mobile visitors are leaving the site quickly compared to desktop users, this issue is likely related to the mobile usability problems called out in the Webmaster Tool,” said McGettigan. “This can help you prioritize which pages need updates, and as you make those changes, you can benchmark the resulting impact to visitor engagement.”

So what if these tools paint a very grim picture about the mobile usability of your website? Does this mean an expensive overhaul or brand new responsive website are required? Not necessarily.

3. There are easy (and affordable) fixes

First off, it’s important to recognize that mobile-friendly and responsive are not one in the same.

“Google recognizes a responsive site as the most mobile-friendly format, yet a website can be mobile-friendly in Google’s eyes without being responsive,” said Mike Tirone, digital marketing search strategist at R2i.

“So in the interest of time and budget, sometimes it makes sense to make some simple tweaks to your site in order to meet Google’s mobile-friendly requirements in the short term,” he said. “Some of the most common are related to flash, viewpoint and spacing of touch elements.”

Flash – Not only does Flash content not display on mobile devices, it’s very easy for Google’s bots to find Flash code on a site and deem it not mobile-friendly – it’s likely the first thing the bots look for. Having Flash content will undoubtedly impact rankings, not to mention usability.

Viewpoint, width and font – Having a site that is too wide for a mobile device and/or having images and content that do not fit within a mobile-friendly fixed frame will pose problems for usability, and it’s something that Google easily recognizes.

Unless you’re investing in a responsive site, it’s best to size the site to a mobile-friendly width and make sure all images are sized to 100 percent width.

Similarly, font sizes should be appropriate for the frame. One of the most common findings from Google’s bots is that text is too small to read on a mobile device.

Spacing of touch elements – Another common usability challenge arises when links and navigation buttons are too close together. If it’s too difficult for a mobile user’s fingers to tap the correct button, they’re more likely to leave the site.

However, as compared to Flash or page width, there is less code associated with spacing of touch elements, and thus, these issues are more difficult for Google to find and will likely have a smaller impact on search rankings.

“Making these minor updates to your site may require a small investment on the development side, but they can certainly be made more quickly and affordably as compared to designing a new responsive site,” said Tirone. “And it’s an investment that is well worth it if you find your site traffic and visitor engagement has been significantly impacted by the algorithm change.”

4. Digital opportunity awaits you, but start with a plan

Mobile website traffic officially surpassed desktop website traffic globally in 2014, and just recently, Google announced that more web searches are now on mobile than on desktop. So, there’s no question that having a mobile-friendly online presence is vital.

And digital in general is increasingly becoming the first touch-point for construction professionals researching products. According to Randall Reilly, 88.8 percent of contractors research equipment online prior to purchase.

But there’s a lot more to engaging your audience online than simply being mobile-friendly and showing up in search results – you must have a plan on how you want your company represented digitally, and it must be a realistic plan within your budget.

“Showing up in organic search results is important, but there are other ways to drive traffic that must be considered, and making sure that the audience is receiving relevant content once they arrive at your site is just as important as how they got there,” said Johnston.

“Investing in the right content – the photography, the video, the product information, the customer testimonials – can mean the difference between a site visitor moving your company’s product into their consideration set versus moving on to the next company with better information on their website,” he said.

Getting the Message Right

Bottom line, an effective digital marketing strategy is one that gets the right message to the right people at the right time.

Doing so requires that you evaluate all methods of driving traffic, and making sure once visitors arrive, they’re seeing what they want to see to help guide them in their buyer journey.

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